by Kim Johnson
Forgiveness Is Not Easy
Forgiveness is not easy to give to someone who has hurt you deeply. By definition, forgiving is “a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.” It’s a concept applied to others who cause the hurt.
Applying this idea to your own guilt, regret, shame or remorse, however, somehow seems absurd. You can harbor guilty feelings and the same recording of regret plays over and over again in your mind. Without knowing how to stop the words, they can lead to anger, depression, and keep you from being emotionally healthy. Even worse, it can hinder your relationship with God. Forgiving yourself is the only way to heal.
This kind of personal forgiveness can be difficult to understand because it’s not specifically addressed in the Bible. While it’s true only God can forgive sins, this doesn’t prevent the letting go of guilt and shame you have caused to yourself. When you forgive, you’re merely letting go of the need for restitution, not absolving sin. And the Bible does command the effort. In Matthew chapter 6 and Luke chapter 17 (to name a few), the Bible indicates when you are injured by another, you are to pardon the wrong. Thus, forgiveness has nothing to do with pardoning from sin. Simply, it’s letting go of the need for restitution. And, this can absolutely be done for your own inner feelings of shame and remorse.
There are many places in Scripture which describes the impact of holding onto an offense. Proverbs 27:3 (NIV) says, “A stone is heavy and sand is weighty, but the resentment caused by a fool is heavier than both.” The Hebrew word for “resentment” in this verse means anger, provocation, grief and frustration. This same word is used by both Job (Job 17:7) and King David (Psalms 31:9) when they describe their feelings during a particularly difficult time. Proverbs 17:33 (NIV) “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Proverbs 15:13 (NIV), “A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit.” Strong feelings, created by a hurtful event, wrong choices or a bad decision, often do tremendous harm to your life.
Forgiveness is a Choice
This is why it’s crucial to look at those feelings (regret, guilt, shame or remorse) and recognize your part in causing them must be forgiven, just as the Bible instructs forgiveness of others for their offenses against you. This unforgiveness can keep you from experiencing God’s complete love and acceptance. Forgiving yourself doesn’t give you a pass, doesn’t justify what was done, and is not a sign of weakness. Forgiveness is a courageous choice and gives you the opportunity to become an overcomer rather than remaining a victim of your own scorn.
Abuse Victims do Not Need to Forgive Themselves
One thing is important to note about self-forgiveness. This is not intended for those who unfairly or mistakenly blame themselves for something beyond their control. For example, suffering abuse at the hands of someone else, extreme trauma, or loss, may cause shame and guilt. Working through feelings of responsibility for something beyond your control may require professional help.
Forget Verses Forgive
Paul, in his letter to Philippi, gives the best advice for handling past choices and moving ahead. Philippians 3:13-15 (NIV) says, “Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” The Hebrew word translated here to “forget” is not defined as ‘no longer remembering.’ Instead, it’s better understood to mean “neglecting, no longer caring for.” In other words, you don’t (or can’t) forget the thing causing regret or guilt. However, you can forget as in no longer allowing it to keep causing pain.
To practice self-forgiveness, simply take responsibility for what is truly yours and accept it. Allow yourself to feel the remorse but don’t wallow in it. Make amends if needed and then take Paul’s advice. Don’t keep looking back. Ask God to give you wisdom in moving forward. The past cannot be changed, but you can make changes to benefit your future.
Peace and Healing
Forgiveness of others includes forgiving yourself and is essential to a journey toward peace and healing. By letting go of any guilt, shame or other self-condemnation, you can focus on moving forward. It will enable you to open your heart to the Lord and His will for your life. It is to that peace you are called.
“And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts.
For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.
Colossians 3:15 (NLT)